Khen Russell
Doctoral student Khen Russell hopes to combine his nursing and tech background to improve health care delivery and access.

In July 2007 while working at Intel, Khen Russell learned that the corporation’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, committed to investing $100 million in a new school at UC Davis. The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing launched and Russell steered his professional trajectory in a new direction.

“I was tech savvy from a young age,” Russell recalled. “While I had not thought of all technology’s health care implications, our internal message boards lit up with the news of the new nursing school. I noticed a niche, took a gamble and it paid off.”

Armed with a passion for creating change and a vision for improving health care, Russell returned to school to receive a Master of Science in Nursing. His five years serving as a registered nurse ― on the hospital unit, as a case manager in a hospital facility and working with MediCal insurance providers  ― reinforced his instincts were right.

“As an informaticist, I am comfortable with computers. But as a nurse, I witnessed countless instances where others struggled with entering information then trying to retrieve it at a later time,” Russell explained. “I served as a translator between the two worlds.”

Recognizing that discomfort with computers hinders quality of care for people and their families drives Russell now as he pursues a Doctor of Philosophy Degree at the School of Nursing. Inextricably bound in this quest are Russell’s experiences as an African-American man and nurse. He says his encounters with racism now influence how he conducts research.

“These experiences live in the database of my mind,” Russell said. “My memories of racism — both overt and under the surface — prompt me to look at things from others’ perspectives before drawing conclusions. For me, research isn’t just about buttressing my preconceived notions; it’s also about finding the adverse in order to arrive at an informed opinion.”

For his dissertation research, Russell hopes to bridge the gap between the worlds of technology and health care. Technology plays a critical role in the curriculum, research and other collaborations at the School of Nursing. The success of health technologies and mobile applications in the future depends on what information is deemed necessary, how that information is managed, how it’s accessed and how it’s used by both providers and individuals.

“Technology has the power to bridge that divide where sometimes humans cannot. We must bring diversity into the informatics equation to address fundamental health disparities and contribute to innovative solutions,” added Katherine Kim, assistant professor and Russell’s faculty adviser. “Khen’s perspective is valuable in this sector and underscores how critical it is to prepare the next generation of clinicians to successfully work with technology and data.”

“My personal experiences with race, coupled with my professional familiarity of how people adapt to technology without formal systems in place, motivates me,” he said. “I’m ready to learn how to affect policy that lags behind the speed with which technology advances. I’m ready to challenge what I believe.”